Where were you? Remembering September 11 – A Look Back
I was sitting in my kitchen, feeding my daughter breakfast in her highchair; it was about 8:50 in the morning, September 11, 2001. The TV was on, playing a childs program I can not even remember now. The phone rang and it was my husband; he asked if I had the TV on. I said, “yes, why?” He was working for a construction company, as a crane rigger, building the new parking garage at Norfolk International Airport, in Norfolk, Virginia where we live. He told me to turn on the news, he didn’t know what was going on but it was crazy there. I turned on the television to the local news and my stomach sank. Terrorists had flown airplanes into The World Trade Center in New York City. I was glued to the television watching the events unfold. It was tragic and also very personal for me.
At the time I was a Reservation Agent for American Airlines in their local office in Norfolk. I was scheduled that day off, like every Tuesday and Wednesday. I honestly can’t remember if I knew right away if any of the planes were my airline. I watched for what seemed like hours, but it wasn’t. It was long enough to witness the first tower fall, and the chaos in the streets. People running, the clouds of dust and debris rising up and barreling down the streets, as if chasing those fleeing.
My telephone rang again. It was my team Supervisor calling me in to man the phones. The call queue was over 300 holding. Families, friends and the curious were calling. I called my babysitter, and made arrangements to bring my daughter to her. I threw on some jeans and shirt, threw my hair in a baseball hat, packed my daughter’s diaper bag and left a note for my husband ( no cell phones yet).
I got to work about 10:45am. The call queue was well over 400 by this point. I got to a desk, plugged in my headset, logged into my computer to go live and instantly I heard the beep in my ear signaling that I was getting a call. My computer screen came up blank, where usually it had the existing reservation information, or the route they wished to travel. I was not prepared for this. Not mentally, nor emotionally. I had just lost my grandfather the day before and was supposed to be leaving to travel to my grandmother’s in Northern Virginia, with my mom and my daughter. Emotionally I was already in pieces. We usually answer our line with “Thank you for calling American Airlines, my name is Michelle, where are you traveling to?” I couldn’t say that, I just couldn’t. I simply said, “Thank you for calling American Airlines, my name is Michelle….” and I almost stuttered saying my own name.
Some of the voices I heard were panicked. They wanted answers, and information that I could not give them. Some calls were the curious. One call I took- the last one will be forever in my mind. It was a concerned family member of a passenger on Flight 77. The flight that was flown into the Pentagon. They wanted me to confirm whether their loved one was on the plane. How do you do that?? I don’t know. I was unable to deny, nor confirm.
We had been instructed to route those calls straight to our Customer Service desks, where Supervisors were manning the lines. What those callers were told, I am not sure. You could hear crying in the “res center”. Coworkers were breaking down. We all stopped looking at the queue marquee on the walls. I know I never looked at the clock. There was no laughing and whispering across the panels that separated our desks. You didn’t see people standing up to stretch their legs and back while waiting for the next call. The calls were relentless. They just kept coming.
I can not even remember how long I worked that day. But that was the last day that I worked because I was scheduled to be off on Bereavement Leave due to my grandfather’s death. I was leaving the next morning with my mom. Which I did. However, we had no idea that we would have to wait days to lay my grandfather to rest. While waiting I stayed at my grandmother’s where we all were glued to the TV downstairs in the den, on CNN. That is where I found out 3 days later that American Airlines was closing reservations centers. Mine specifically. I found out across the ticker on the bottom of the screen that I was losing my job. No warning from the airlines. Just a ticker that read, “American Airlines to close reservation center in Norfolk, Va”. Too much loss. I lost my grandfather on September 10. Our country lost 2,977 people on September 11.I lost my job on September 14. My job could be replaced….eventually. But the lives of those 2,977 people. They were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, and children. Passengers, crew, firefighters, police, EMS and others.
September 11: Truly the greatest single tragedy our country has ever experienced.